It’s been a year full of surprises for the New Jersey Devils. Namely with their unprecedented outburst of offensive skill from a combination of first-year and returning veteran players. While New Jersey’s offensive rejuvenation has been a popular center of discussion, fans and analysts are quick to discount the immense contributions from their depth forwards (namely over their last two or three games). Although he isn’t the flashiest of players, forward Blake Coleman is (and should be) an especial standout among this group.
Coleman’s drawn a lot of attention with his recent play. He’s notched two goals and five points in his last six contests. The coaching staff has recognized his recent upstanding play, and has rewarded him with a temporary upgrade to the second line with Travis Zajac and Brian Gibbons. Granted Coleman only has four goals and nine points in 33 games, the 26-year old has done several “little things” that don’t necessarily show up on the score sheet.
As mentioned earlier, Coleman has just four goals in 33 games this year, which isn’t overly impressive on its own. When you take a step back, however, it reveals how much effort he has put in to tallying those four goals. It also gives plenty of reason to believe more could be on the horizon for Coleman. He’s tied for fourth-most shots among Devils forwards, and fifth on the entire team (60). In addition, his 6.66 shooting percentage (no pun intended) is the second lowest among Devils forwards with at least 20 games played.
I bring up Coleman’s shooting percentage, because we witnessed a similar situation with Taylor Hall that we covered earlier this season, who has since tied Brian Gibbons for the team lead in goals (12). Coleman doesn’t get as much overall playing time or used in as many offensively advantageous situations (such as Taylor Hall). However, he is still averaging enough shots per game to roughly equate the rates of New Jersey’s top players.
Speaking of ice time, any allusion I may have made towards Coleman not playing enough (or as much as he should) is misconstrued. Overall, Coleman doesn’t average a lot of playing time on a nightly basis (averaging roughly 14 minutes per game). He has the fifth-most time on ice (TOI) among Devils forwards (460:27). He also currently averages the fourth-most five-on-five playing time (388:07). We can find some additional insight into Coleman’s utilization by examining his shorthanded playing time, where he currently has the third-most shorthanded ice time among Devils forwards in TOI (68:29), and average shorthanded ice time per game (2:04).
While Coleman is regularly a center, his seemingly temporary promotion to the second line resulted in a shift to wing. Once the team is fully healthy, however, we should see Coleman shift back to centering a bottom-six line. His face-off win percentage isn’t particularly great at 47.33%. Since the departure of Adam Henrique, Coleman has currently taken the most draws on the team (338). However, fellow centers Brian Boyle and Travis Zajac are likely to soon pass him in that category. 85 percent of Coleman’s draws have been at even-strength. Out of his 338 face-offs, 279 of them have come in the defensive and neutral zones (where his face-off win percentages are respectively 41.13 and 52.06). Whereas in the offensive zone, Coleman’s only taken 59 draws (winning 54.23 percent of them).
Additional stats further show how truly under appreciated a player Coleman is. He has the third-highest five-on-five differential in shot attempts when his team is behind (+13). He’s also leading Devils forwards in hits (74), and has the second-most shot blocks and takeaways (27 each). He’s more than capable of playing a larger role when called upon, but holds his own on most nights. This isn’t making a case to give Coleman a more offensive role by Hynes and his staff. Instead, it is a testament to how appreciable players (like Coleman) can easily go unnoticed. Especially when a team is having an unexpectedly successful season. Furthermore, this should shed more light on how forwards don’t always have to show up on the score sheet to profoundly impact how their team is performing.